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Sailing could be next for Olympic axe, says Neil Pryde

by Alvin Sallay, South China Morning Post on 15 May 2012
NeilPryde Racing Series - Top of the Gulf Regatta 2012 - Neil Pryde, himself Guy Nowell/Top of the Gulf
Former Olympian and millionaire businessman Neil Pryde has warned sailing is in danger of being kicked out of the Olympics as the fallout continues from the controversial decision to dump windsurfing in favour of kiteboarding for the 2016 Games.

Pryde says the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) has made a terrible and unfathomable decision and accused it of 'selfishness'. 'The Isaf is represented by all member countries and most come from the yacht brigade. What they have done is to safeguard their narrow interests and sacrificed windsurfing. What they don't realise is the whole sport of sailing is in danger of being kicked out of the Olympics,' said the 71-year-old Pryde, whose name is attached to the RSX windsurfing discipline which will be seen for the last time at the London Olympics.

'From a business perspective it doesn't impact me as I will continue to provide the sailing equipment. But from a personal point of view, I think it is a terrible decision for the sport of sailing as a whole. It's an absolute disgrace.'

Pressure from the International Olympic Committee is seen as the reason why ISAF has jumped the gun. Having placed a cap on the number of sports at the summer Olympics - 28 - the IOC has also made it clear all sports have to be commercially viable. And for this, television is the key.

'The main source of revenue for the IOC is from television and as far as sailing is concerned, it scores poorly in TV ratings,' Pryde said. 'On top of this, the IOC is also against sports which are regarded as elitist. They want sports for the people. Unfortunately sailing is regarded as elitist, the 'yacht class'.'

Windsurfing is virtually the poor man's discipline in sailing. All the equipment, which is provided free of charge for the Olympics by Pryde, is one-design and is far cheaper than a dinghy or a laser boat, other classes at the Olympics.

Pryde is adamant windsurfing has helped raise the profile of sailing, and more importantly changed a long-held perception the sport was only for the upper-crust gentry, those from the 'yacht class'. 'Windsurfing has been in the Olympics for more than 25 years and it has helped introduce sailing to a wider audience,' he said. 'Just look at China, who came into sailing through windsurfing and today is challenging for the America's Cup.

'This discipline has helped countries from Thailand to India come into the sport and it is sad the Isaf has totally ignored this fact. It is a selfish decision made purely to protect certain sailing classes already in the Games,' he said.

The Hong Kong-based sailing enthusiast, whose company Pryde Group employs more than 2,500 people in 40 different countries, is a world leader in the marine and adventure sports markets with an annual turnover of HK$1 billion. He sailed for Hong Kong in the Flying Dutchman class - with Peter Gamble - at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico and, until Lee Lai-shan won a gold medal in windsurfing at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, held the best result in sailing, a 13th-place finish.

His business interests allow him free access to the corridors of power in the sailing world, and Pryde was present two years ago at an ISAF council meeting in Athens when the move began to get kiteboarding into the Olympics as a separate discipline. Pryde said: 'Originally the idea was for sailing to ask for another medal at the Olympics by introducing kiteboarding. 'There was no talk of replacing windsurfing, but somehow, over the years, things have evolved and with the number of athletes at the Olympics being restricted, this has unfortunately occurred.

'While kiteboarding is a great sport, it is quite immature. There is no structure, no organisation and no youth development. The plan was to introduce kiteboarding by the 2020 Games, not in 2016. Fast-forwarding a still developing sport is totally ridiculous.' The switch must still be approved by the IOC, but with the technical aspects of sports generally left to the discretion of the federations, it is highly unlikely they will intervene on behalf of windsurfing.

www.scmp.com
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